Incumbent Sen. Diane Sands won re-election against Republican challenger Chase Reynolds Friday, after a close race demanded several days to finish counting ballots.
Some ballots remain — the Missoula County Elections office has 1,700 provisional ballots that will be counted Nov. 13, in accordance with state law.
But Elections Administrator Dayna Causby told the Missoulian just 280 of those ballots were in Senate District 49.
With all precincts reported, Sands is up 347 votes on Reynolds, making it mathematically impossible for Reynolds to win, even if all 280 went his way.
“I’m relieved that it’s over," Sands told the Missoulian. "I never did doubt that I was going to win, based on where the votes were coming in.
"I still have lots of work that’s not done.”
Reynolds, a first-time candidate and former Griz and NFL football player, called for pro-business tax and regulatory policies, easing of housing restrictions, aggressive forest management and natural resource development. Sands, meanwhile, stressed public lands protection, small-scale agriculture, affordable health care and education.
She reported nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions, while Reynolds took in $17,500, making the legislative contest one of the most expensive in the state.
Sands said her team knocked on 19,000 doors for this election, and credited her community involvement — with groups like the Lolo Community Council, Target Range homeowners and the Orchard Homes Country Life Club — for the victory.
Voters like someone who shows up, Sands said.
“You have to know and be known by your constituency. That’s what representative democracy is,” she said. “Most issues in the Legislature really are not partisan. There isn’t really a partisan issue on the sexual assault legislation that I carried … or the money for Smurfit-Stone,” she said of the former mill site in Frenchtown.
Part of the reason Sands wasn’t surprised her race was close was because “so many Montana races are won by margins like this.”
The Montana Secretary of State’s voting results page showed close races across the state, even with all precincts fully reported.
But, as in Missoula County, there are provisional ballots still to be counted.
The Montana Democratic Party declared victory for Sands and a handful of other candidates in a press release Friday morning, though they noted at the bottom that they were “continuing to monitor two races that are still too close to call in House Districts 22 and 51.”
The candidates in House District 22 in Cascade County are separated by just five votes while those in House District 51 in Yellowstone County are separated by 68 votes. Republican candidates lead in both.
However, the Democratic Party did declare victory for Missoula-area House candidate Thomas Winter, despite Winter only being up 43 votes on Republican incumbent Adam Hertz.
There were 200 provisional ballots left to count in the House District 96 race, according to the elections office, putting Hertz within striking distance.
A recount is automatic if the candidates tie. If the margin of victory is within one-quarter of 1 percent, the loser can request a recount. That works out to one vote in the Hertz-Winter race.